INDIANAPOLIS– According to the 2022-2023 IREAD-3 Assessment released Wednesday, nearly 1 in 5 Indiana third graders cannot read proficiently.

It’s a situation the Indiana Secretary of Education is calling a crisis.

”We still have one in five children in Indiana that at the end of third grade who are not able to read,” Dr. Katie Jenner said.

Dr. Jenner said kids who read proficiently by third grade are 35 percent more likely to graduate from high school. That’s why the IDOE implemented what’s called the “IREAD-3” Assessment in 2012 to measure the reading skills of third graders statewide. The secretary said the findings of this year’s assessment could mean negative repercussions for the state’s economy.

”In reading, we’ve been declining for over a decade,” Dr. Jenner said.

According to Dr. Jenner, the pandemic is only partly to blame for the decreasing passing rate. This past school year, roughly 82 percent of third graders passed the assessment—that’s down from a nearly 87 percent passing rate five years ago and a 91 percent passing rate ten years ago.

However, the secretary said there are strategies showing promise to reverse the alarming trend, one of which is the Indiana Literacy Cadre. The coalition of elementary schools receives funding for early literacy initiatives and has grown from 41 to 199 members in the past year.

”Schools involved in the Indiana Literacy Cadre will have instructional coaches in their buildings, supporting teachers in science of reading instruction, supporting teachers in reviewing student data in real time,” Dr. Jenner said.

Dr. Jenner said the IDOE also plans to fund some early literacy training for K-3, EL, and Special Education teachers who work for schools outside the cadre—giving each educator who completes the training a $1,200 stipend.

“This is the first entry point for educators to engage in additional training—we will have additional training that rolls out even over the course of the next school year,” Charity Flores, the IDOE’s chief academic officer, said.

But some school districts have already implemented such measures over the past few years, one of which is Greenfield-Central outside Indianapolis. The district has implemented a summer school program and has brought in specialists to help boost early literacy rates (Greenfield-Central’s individualized IREAD-3 Assessment showed a 91 percent passing rate).

”You have to have that expertise in-house for 180 days to ensure that your students are being exposed to that,” Dr. Harold Olin, the Greenfield-Central Superintendent, said.

Dr. Olin said the IDOE is aiming for a 95 percent IREAD-3 passing rate statewide by 2027—it’s what he calls a lofty goal.

”When you’re looking at a passing rate that’s 82 percent rate right now, that’s a big jump, which means that corporations are going to have to reprioritize their education dollars,” Dr. Olin said.

Dr. Jenner said by late 2024, all Indiana educators with specific licensure will complete “Science of Reading” training moving forward, and that the goal is to have 600 elementary schools within the Indiana Literacy Cadre by the 2025-2026 school year.